Doing Life Together

In the 1980s, a forensic psychiatrist coined the term parental alienation syndrome (PAS) to describe the efforts of one parent to turn his or her children against the other. The syndrome involves deliberate mental and emotional abuse that can occur among highly conflictual couples who fight over custody.

The result is a child who harbors tremendous negativity towards a parent that is not based on actual experience with that parent.

It is a phenomena familiar to divorce attorneys who listen to endless cycles of accusations and counter accusations between spouses in child-custody disputes. PAS pits one parent against the other, the good and evil parent. When it works, the children also turn against the maligned parent.

The motivation behind PAS is usually rooted in poor coping from the failed marriage. Instead of a spouse engaging in healthy grieving for the loss of the marriage, the spouse goes after the spouse and engages the children in the battle. The spouse feels so damaged from the breakup, that enlisting the children in the anger and blame of the other serves as a way to further the blame. Or the spouse who vilifies feels so rejected and alone, turns to the children for nurturing and a source of support, even companionship. What emerges is a “we against the world” position. Instead of owning his or her part of the divorcing conflict, the spouse blames the other in a self-righteous way to protect the children.

Whatever the dynamics in play, the end result is poor conflict management and  children suffering the effects of parents who can’t cooperate on their behalf. Children are left with fears, confusion, sadness, and despair because parents can’t work through their disputes. The way conflict is handle destroys relationships and devastates children. Parents manipulate and use their children to get revenge.

Custodial parents are charged by the law to avoid any disruptions with the child’s other parent, yet, time and time, we see this syndrome acted out. This needs to stop for the sake of the children.


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